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Increase your profits with rolling benches.
Did you know that gardeners have been experimenting with growing indoors and in greenhouses since 14 A.D., when Roman emperor Tiberius first demanded to be fed his favorite vegetable daily? The modern greenhouse was popularized through-out Europe in the 17th century when Charles Lucien Bonaparte built his first greenhouse in Leiden, Holland, to grow medicinal tropical plants. Over time, there have been many ideas and inventions that have impacted indoor growing. Some changed the whole cultivation industry, like grow lighting, and others were not such good ideas, like the greenhouse based New York Crystal Palace. One idea that is great and has become an industry standard is the rolling bench.
What is a rolling bench?
How does a horticulture rolling bench work? It is essentially a flat platform resting on a round tube or pipe (The roller) that is placed directly underneath. The platform can be easily pulled or pushed, as the pipe underneath rolls with the movement, because rolling friction is considerably less than sliding friction. Generally, one or two rollers is sufficient for a horticulture rolling bench since the weight and distance are not extreme, but this method could move very heavy objects by simply adding more rollers – just ask the builders of Stonehenge!
Increased Production, High ROI.
As a commercial greenhouse grower or indoor farmer, rolling benches offer you many advantages. First and foremost they allow for a more efficient use of space, which translates to more crops being grown and more profits being turned. Modern rolling benches eliminate the need for multiple crop tending lanes within the grow facility, lanes that can be replaced by additional rolling benches and production plants.
Designing your grow room around a rolling bench system will only require one lane for crop maintenance. When the first lane is finished, the next row of benches is rolled into that lane, creating a new work lane of plants that require tending. The row of benches can be easily rolled horizontally by hand, thanks to the rollers supporting the bench table.
Although increased production and profit is enough to justify adding rolling benches to your grow facility’s design, there are other benefits that will increase the return on investment (ROI).
Your Plants Benefit.
Growing your plants at ground level means fighting the elements to keep your plants’ root zones at the right temperature, or installing costly in-floor heating systems. Having cold or dramatic temperature fluctuations at the roots will affect the final quality and yield. By using a benching system, the plants are kept off the ground and the root zone is warmed by the air passing beneath the bench.
With your plants raised on benches, air flow around your plants helps to keep them healthy and improves quality while increased air flow around the grow room makes environmental control easier. The space beneath the bench creates an open compartment which helps circulate the air and redistribute heat and humidity, which helps reduce micro-climates in your cultivation room. The improved circulation and distribution means your HVAC system will not have to work as hard, translating to a decrease in power consumption and an increase in profits.
Your Growers Benefit.
You will improve more than just your plants growing environment by installing rolling benches in your facility. The raised position of the plants make them easier for your cultivation team to place, move, and tend. With less bending and lifting, the risk of employee injury is reduced and their production output is increased. Not to mention healthy and happy employees also contribute to increased quality and yield.
As a commercial grower, molds, pests, and plant diseases are of paramount concern. Rolling benches provide an advantage here, too. With no plants resting on the ground, your floors can be cleaned and sanitized easily. Plant inspection by the growers is simpler and more comfortable, increasing their efficiency and decreasing the chances of overlooking any potential plant health issues.
Choose your bench.
When choosing your benching system there are many factors to consider. The height, width, and length are dependent on the space available and the crop grown. Construction materials and bench features, however, can be considered ahead of the actual floor plan.
You could choose from a variety of different materials to build a rolling bench, including various woods and plastics. For longevity and plant health reasons, the preferred choices for commercial cultivators are steel and aluminum. When growing hydroponically with salt based nutrients, a simple steel frame is not recommended as the salts in the nutrients will eat away at the metal over time. Steel that will come into contact with nutrient solution or water must be galvanized for protection. Aluminum does not require any special treatment and does not rust or react to the nutrient salts, but a completely aluminum bench frame can be costly. To find the perfect balance between longevity and price, hybrid benches with steel frames and aluminum tables are common.
Your choice of hydroponic grow tray to use on top of your bench will also require planning. Though the length and width usually match their table dimensions, the height and irrigation is dependent on the growing method used. An Ebb & Flow system will need higher sidewalls than a drip irrigation system or hand watering. Using the Nutrient Film Technique requires a completely different style of tray. Deep Water Culture, Aeroponics, even Recirculating DWC can be conveniently installed on a rolling bench with the right forethought.
Regardless of the tray style, you need to be sure the material used can withstand the stresses of commercial hydroponic growing. The plastics used must meet FDA standards, be impact resistant, easy to clean and sanitize, and have strong walls and floor. The manufacturer should be able to provide you with the pounds/square foot the tray can support.
Hydroponic trays and reservoirs are generally made from one of two materials – ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) or PS (Polystyrene). The materials list should specify “High Impact” ABS or PS. Your preferable material should be ABS, as it is the strongest and most resistant of the two. However, it can cost twice as much to produce an ABS product over PS and so if costs are a concern over longevity, you may prefer PS.
Plan Your Grow Room Needs.
While planning your grow room and bench layout, also consider the growing method and bench options available. A few extra minutes of planning can save hours of frustration. For instance, can the bench be bolted into the ground or are there heating elements embedded in the floor? Will the bench need wheels so it can be moved about the facility? Are trellis or light supports required? Reading through the list of options provided by your bench supplier and crossing out what is not needed, then discussing what might be a good idea, will help ensure you did not overlook a feature that could have improved your production output and quality.
Indoor farming and greenhouse growing has evolved tremendously since Emperor Tiberius’s cucumbers and Charles Lucien Bonaparte’s medicinal plants, and will continue to improve as new technologies are introduced to the cultivation industry. The current research into LED lighting, CO2 supplementation, eye protection, and more will eventually lead to greater yields and improved working conditions. Yet, one of the most advantageous and practical “technologies” adapted by growers and already accessible to all is a simple table with a sliding top.